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The War Effort of New Zealand

New Zealand Hospitals in the United Kingdom

New Zealand Hospitals in the United Kingdom.

It seems fit that sometimes we should look back and ponder over the many interesting and sometimes pathetic or stirring events which took place during the years of the war. The story of the New Zealand Medical Corps in the United Kingdom is not without its interest in this respect. Indeed, looking back upon the many incidents that are recorded in its annals during the war the story would seem more like a romance if the facts interwoven with sentiment, suffering, hope and imagination, connected with the hospitals in Britain did not compel stern realisation. Life and death were often in the balance, skilled treatment and time aided the sufferer; and now, walking once more through the streets of New Zealand we find many a once dangerously ill man back again well and strong among his people in this distant page 116
Winter at Mount Felix Hospital at Walton-on-Thames.

Winter at Mount Felix Hospital at Walton-on-Thames.

page 117land. Some, unfortunately, are still far from well; and some have made the greatest of all sacrifices..

It is difficult to realise that until only a comparatively few months ago the New Zealand Expeditionary Force had three large general hospitals, a section of a special jaw hospital, a convalescent hospital, and officers', and also a nurses' home in the United Kingdom! …. Yet if we look back we can remember how each of these units from time to time was the scene of great activity, anxiety, and ceaseless toil,—when the inspiration, hope and brightness of officers and nurses had a most cheering and stimulating effect upon the patients.

Immediately after war was declared many hundreds of New Zealanders living in the United Kingdom offered their services to their country and were examined by New Zealand medical officers resident there. No separate New Zealand hospital however was yet required. The first of our hospitals to be founded there was the New Zealand War Contingent Hospital at Walton-on-Thames, which opened its doors to receive New Zealand patients on 1st August, 1915.

Its first cases arrived within two days of its establishment, consisting of men from Gallipoli. Never will those who saw the admission of these men forget the delight they exhibited when they found that they were within a hospital which bore the name of their own country, was officered and run by New Zealanders, and, above all else, had a New Zealand "atmosphere" permeating its wards and surroundings. From then onwards, until the closing of the institution, Walton-on-Thames became one of the "big homes" in the United Kingdom for New Zealand soldiers.

After the first convoy, fresh cases arrived almost daily. As many of our lads as possible were transferred there, also, from British hospitals to which they had been sent, more especially from those institutions in outlying places away from London. Priority was always given to solitary men, or those in other hospitals in small numbers. Those who could not enter Walton were, as far as possible, concentrated in the Second London General Hospital.

The grounds at Walton were delightful with beautiful page 118walks, flower beds, and green fields. The garden was well kept, and the fine old English cedars and other trees lent a peculiar charm to the surroundings. On one side of the ground the banks were swept by the Thames, and the delight of our lads in watching the river with the numerous boats constantly passing up and down never dwindled. Boating on the river, and swimming, became favourite pastimes. But the New Zealand atmosphere of the institution, perhaps after all, appealed to the lads more than anything else, and they were very sorry when, cured of their complaints, it became necessary for them to be transferred—in the early days to Weymouth, and, at a later period, to Hornchurch. People living in the neighbourhood were, from the opening day of the hospital, anxious to show hospitality to the patients, and we all feel grateful for the numerous acts of kindness which were bestowed upon the men by the residents. Boating parties, picnics on the river, theatre parties, and visits by motor to Windsor and other important places left no time for a man to be dull or homesick. The constant invitations to local homes from some of the best people in the neighbourhood, made for mutual understanding and kindly feeling.

New Zealanders living in the United Kingdom early learned to look upon Walton as the centre at which they were likely to find sick or wounded New Zealanders who had been transferred to the United Kingdom, or where they would be most likely to hear of the whereabouts of their soldier friends who were still in Imperial hospitals.

Some very serious cases were early admitted. One was a man who had some forty wounds. He did well, but unfortunately, after some four or five weeks of hope and confidence he suddenly sank and died. He was the first New Zealander to die in a New Zealand hospital in the United Kingdom.

One funeral, the fifth to take place in Walton, will always remain a vivid picture in the minds of those who attended. It had been agreed to bury our dead in the Walton Cemetery, portions of which contiguous to each other had been allotted to those belonging to the Church of England, and the Roman Catholic, and Non-Conformist faiths, the intention being that page 119at the end of the war a commemorative monument should be erected in the grounds. However, in this particular instance the relatives of the man wished the body to be sent to Scotland. It was a day of heavy snow, and the gun-carriage and military band were prevented from arriving at Walton at the agreed time. We, therefore, requisitioned one of our ambulances and placed the coffin upon it. The procession to the railway station which was about one and a quarter miles distant was most impressive. Behind the snow-covered ambulance marched the men in their blues, their hats snow-laden; the trees and buildings along the route were all white, and from 12 to 15 inches of snow lay on the road. Nought was to be heard except the muffled sound of the wheels. We marched slowly along and at last arrived at the station white in its pall of snow. The coffin was reverently placed in the special van and was taken by rail to the relatives in Scotland. Every man present felt particularly sad.

The name of the hospital was changed after a few months to the New Zealand Military Hospital. Later, when the N.Z. Expeditionary Force took it over from the New Zealand War Contingent Association, it became known as the No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital. At that time the accommodation was for about 350 patients, the hospital building holding about 100, and the annexe over 200. There was also a special ward for infectious diseases. The annexe had been built in such a manner that if necessary additions could be made to bring the number of beds up to 520. These additions were found advisable immediately the military took over the hospital. After a while, still further accommodation being required, the large hotel at Oatlands Park was taken over and altered to make a section of the hospital. Oatlands Park was specially used for medical, limbless, and tuberculous cases. Altogether, toward the end of 1918, Walton Hospital was able to accommodate nearly 1,900 patients. Various alterations were necessary from time to time, and accommodation was also made for 50 officers.

The surgical and medical work was of a high order, and the administration continued to be fully satisfactory. The special departments—eye, ear, throat, and nose, the treatment page 120
Crey Towers—The Main Building of HorncHurcH Convalescent Hospital.

Crey Towers—The Main Building of HorncHurcH Convalescent Hospital.

page 121of limbless soldiers, X-ray and bacteriological work, massage, and medical electricity—were, in each instance in charge of doctors well versed in the particular work, and, the institution therefore, was carried on to the greatest benefit to the men and to the credit of the force. The work of the medical officers and of the New Zealand Army Nursing Sisters in our hospitals compared very favourably indeed with that performed in similar units of the Imperial army. The food and cooking received special attention, and it is only necessary to question any New Zealanders who were patients in the hospital to ascertain whether they were not well satisfied with the meals supplied to them! The educational classes at Oatlands Park were valuable in many ways, not only in employing the men usefully, but in instructing them in knowledge which should be of distinct use to them in after life.

It is also a source of gratification and pride that the people of Walton have been good enough to say very kind things concerning the New Zealanders, who, with indeed very few exceptions, behaved in the most creditable way.